The Columbia-Wharton combination is common among MBA applicants. Some candidates whose top choices are Wharton and Columbia are unsure how to proceed given that Columbia MBA requires applicants in the early decision round to commit to enrollment if they are accepted. Should students apply for early decision at Columbia and miss the opportunity to send in their Wharton application in the 1st round? Or maybe just wait for the regular admissions at Columbia while sending their 1st round application to Wharton?

Let’s look at the deadlines for this year, the application season of 2015 and 2016.

Application Strategy No. 1

Some applicants use a daring strategy – applying to Columbia early admissions while simultaneously applying in the first round to Wharton. Their plan is as follows: send their application early to Wharton’s first round, and submit their Columbia Early Decision application closer to the deadline. The hope is to get an interview and final answer (preferably YES) from Wharton before getting any response from Columbia. The official decision release date for Wharton is December 17th, 2015,  but candidates who interview early might be offered admission earlier. If they get into Wharton, they can then withdraw their application to Columbia in time to avoid breaking their promise to Columbia MBA to enroll if they are accepted. And, of course, if they don’t get into Wharton MBA but are accepted by Columbia MBA, they will enroll at Columbia.

It’s not an easy or a comfortable process. There is risk, of course, that the schedule won’t go as planned and Columbia MBA will make a binding offer of admission before the answer arrives from Wharton. However, this is one way to work around the somewhat challenging requirement that Columbia imposes on strong prospective applicants.

Application Strategy no. 2

Apply to Columbia Early Decision cycle as soon as you are ready. Some applicants pools are very crowded (think about financiers, students from India or China with a background in science/tech) so admissions offers are made as early as August. Apply, get a spot, and pay your $6000 deposit within 2 weeks of getting the offer. If you’re in, but still want to try your luck at HBS, Wharton, Stanford or MIT – go for it. If you get a financial scholarship from another school you may not feel as bad about saying goodbye to your $6000. I’ve seen students get into Columbia and still decide to attend another school.

Application Strategy no. 3

Apply to Columbia in the regular round. If Columbia is not one of your top 3 schools, or if you are fairly confident you can get into HBS, Stanford, MIT or Wharton, wait a little bit with Columbia. Since Columbia has rolling admissions you can have your application ready and submit one day after the Early Admissions cycle ends. You should still hear back from them by the end of the year (before Christmas usually), but you won’t face any ethical problems if you decide to go elsewhere.


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